By definition, self-esteem is “a feeling of having respect for yourself and your abilities.” Therefore, it stands to reason that an individual who has high self-esteem would not be influenced by the evaluation of another person, but an individual who has low self-esteem would rely on the comments of others to validate their worth.
The difference between people who have high self-esteem and people who have low self-esteem is complex. Mostly it traces back to the support, attention, and treatment they received as children. The University of Texas at Austin Counseling and Mental Health Center states that if, as a child, a person experienced:
- being listened to
- being spoken to respectfully
- receiving appropriate attention and affection
- having their accomplishments recognized and mistakes or failures acknowledged and accepted,
then they are most likely to have high self-esteem. I personally can attest to this. As someone who has low self-esteem, I can see the connection between the attention and praise I received in my childhood from my father and my level of self-esteem as an adult. I was always shy and seemed to fall through the cracks, which means that no matter what I did I was never really noticed. On the other hand, if a person was harshly criticized, physically, sexually, or emotionally abused, ignored, ridiculed, teased, expected to be perfect all the time (as a child), they are more likely to have low self-esteem.
Self-esteem builds confidence. People with higher levels of self-esteem do not pray the ground will open up and swallow them whole when they feel they are being judged by another person. In his book Self-Esteem Research, Theory, and Practice: Toward a Positive Psychology of Self-Esteem, Christopher J. Mruk, PhD writes that researchers Leary and MacDonald have noted that “people with lower trait self-esteem tend to experience virtually every aversive emotion more frequently than people with higher self-esteem.” I believe that Leary and MacDonald hit the nail on the head here. Their research was thorough and seems to have been based on characteristics of people with low self-esteem. The literature and research that Leary and MacDonald review in the Handbook of Self and Identity is based on empirical findings. To review this information, they use the framework of sociometer theory (“a theory of self-esteem from an evolutionary psychological perspective that proposes that [the] state self-esteem is a gauge of interpersonal relationships.”).
There is even evidence that people who have high self-esteem are less likely to conform than those with low self-esteem. This is evidence of the influence that other people’s opinions have on people with low self-esteem versus a person with high self-esteem. When a person has low self-esteem, their quality of life actually decreases due to “missed opportunities or lack of spontaneity.” For example, a person with low self-esteem might turn down a last-minute invitation to a night out or even the opportunity to change to a more beneficial job. It is the lack of respect and belief a person has for their abilities that makes them hesitant to pursue opportunities that would make them grow.
The ability to pursue something that makes you feel alive comes from confidence within yourself; from self-esteem. It is what gives a person the ability to stand out from the crowd, to not conform, to have a strong sense of self and a whole-hearted belief in yourself and your abilities. My questions to you, reader, are: what life experiences have you gained from a moment of spontaneity? And how has your life been shaped by your self-esteem?
Mruk, C. (2006). The Crucial Issue of Defining Self-Esteem. In Self-Esteem Research, Theory, and Practice: Toward a Positive Psychology of Self-Esteem (Third ed.). New York: Springer Publishing Company.
Breckler, S., Olson, J., & Wiggins, E. (2006). Conformity, Compliance and Obedience. In Social Psychology Alive (pp. 314-315). Thomson Learning.
Leary, M. R., & MacDonald, G. (2003). Individual differences in self-esteem: A
review and theoretical integration. In M. R. Leary & J. P. Tangney (Eds.),
Handbook of self and identity (pp. 401–418). New York: Guilford.